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Ten hut! How to grab your reader’s attention

Let me ask you a question. An important one.

What’s the biggest challenge we face as copywriters?

Expressing features in terms of benefits? Making our reader believe us? Finding a synonym for “exciting”?

No. None of these. Our biggest challenge is our reader’s unwillingness to read anything they perceive to be “marketing”. Or, for that matter, to read anything at all.

When was the last time you thought, “I wish someone would send me more internal reports to read”? Or, “If only I had more blast emails in my inbox every morning, life would be so much richer”?

Never, am I right?

You spend hours writing up your latest monthly report, yet send it on with the nagging feeling it will linger, unread, in your boss’s virtual in-tray until it gets unceremoniously canned.

(Or “put aside for more detailed consideration” as we like to call it.)

Maybe you’ve just finished polishing a new sales email or mailpack, only to count the responses in single figures.

The problem is attention. Or, rather, the lack of it. But quite honestly, we’ve nobody to blame but ourselves.

If we produce a report, however good, that bears the title “Quarterly Financial Report for P/E 31/3/09” what did we expect? A rush of Board directors gathering round the FD’s desk as she hollers, “Hey guys, it’s Andy’s latest report! Last one to grab a seat buys the doughnuts!”

I think not.

If we send customers an email whose subject line reads, “Exciting news from Acme Widget Corporation” or write an ad bearing the headline, “Storm in a teacup” did we fondly imagine readers ignoring emails from their mates, or articles about doing their job better, in favour of THIS?

No. It’s our fault. We didn’t grab their attention. So we don’t deserve to be read. There are things we can do though. Clever things. Simple things. Like these …

Five ways to grab reader attention

  1. Assume, rightly, that nobody actually wants to read your reports, memos, emails and proposals. Even when they tell you to write them.
  2. Stop giving them titles. Give them headlines instead.
  3. Include a picture. But make it relevant to your core message, not just to your headline.
    Suppose, for example, you worked for a company that did clever things with supermarket shopping data. On the front of your report, have a picture of a lady with a shopping basket, above the line:
    “This is Eileen. She’s not buying so many of your own-brand groceries as last week. Want to know why?”
  4. Remember at all times that you are selling. Therefore, “clever” punning headlines that make you smile, or “educational” headlines that are the fruits of your research on Wikipedia, are unlikely to grab your reader’s attention.

    If you were promoting a chiropractic clinic, this headline:

    What your GP doesn’t want you to know about lower back pain

    will almost certainly make you more money than this one:

    Your back is at the front of our minds

    or this one:

    38 bones, 24 muscles, 37 pads of cartilage: your back is a complex machine

     

  5. Begin your copy with a direct appeal to your reader’s self-interest. All the evidence shows that this approach is more likely to put bread on the table than any other.

And I’m telling you this because?

Response rate, click-through rate, feedback: call it what you like, but that ratio is not really measuring the number of responses divided by the number of recipients. It’s measuring the number of responses divided by the number of readers.

You can get more of what you want without altering the ratio simply by increasing your readership. And you do that by grabbing more people’s attention.

Categories: Maslen on Marketing.

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